Closure of northwest aerodrome causing hardship for Barama residents

- river route also a problem

Aerial view of the Yakishuri Airstrip

Residents of Barama, Region One are bemoaning the three-month closure of the Yakishuri Aerodrome by the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) as the Barama River is dry and their access to health care and other services has been severely hindered.

“My daughter was bitten by a labaria snake and although we had persons willing to see her get a flight out to Georgetown it could not happen,” Gilbert Alexander told Stabroek News in an Interview.

The Kariako villager informed that his eight-year-old daughter had to be taken by ATV for seven hours to the Matthews Ridge Hospital after which she was brought out to the city by a Ministry of Public Health MediVac.

Gilbert Alexander

She remains a patient at the Georgetown Public Hospital and her father is left worrying how he will return home as he has no monies to take the child to Matthews Ridge and pay for the seven-hour trek back to their village.

“We cannot go by boat because the river is low…and when the boat decides to go it will probably take about five days. It takes couple days well,” he said.

This newspaper contacted Head of the GCAA, Egbert Field who informed that the closure was necessary to allow for an inspection by the GCAA.

“The airstrip is at the moment still to be inspected by the civil aviation authority,” he said.

Field also informed that there is an issue between the operator of the airstrip and the person he leased the lands from that puts the matter further on hold. “We are awaiting the outcome of a dispute (over) the airstrip between two parties. The matter is now with the ministry and we are awaiting that matter to be resolved,” he said.

The airstrip, the only one in the Barama area, was opened in October of 2011 following inspections and the meeting of all the civil aviation guidelines. It was granted a Category 1 domestic aircraft operation licence and had been operating since.

Owner, Kennedy Smith said that this year he completed expansion of the runway to the tune of over $7M and two weeks after, the facility was inspected by the GCAA and he was told that it complied with the regulations and he was free to operate as per normal.

“The inspector and I went up to do the inspection two weeks ago Tuesday. Everything went well and they granted me the okay to begin operations. We had flights that Tuesday and Wednesday but on Thursday I got a call that it be closed,” he told this newspaper.

“I was told by GCAA that there is a letter from the (Ministry) of Public Infrastructure saying that it has to be closed from 28th March to the 28th June but I have not gotten any letter saying that,” he added.

He admitted that there is a private issue between him and the woman that he leased the land from as she wanted additional sums to what was contracted.

However, he does not feel that the airport should be closed to facilitate that matter.

“Yes there is somewhat of a dispute between me and (name of person given). My parents are from here and their parents, so I have lived here all my life and know the difficulty in getting access to things. It was the main reason I decided to personally invest in an airstrip because I do not want others from my village or other areas to have to go through that struggle,” he said.

“Our land was not big enough so I leased some from (the woman) and we had an agreement. In that agreement she and her staff is free to also use the airstrip but I had put a block on some. I was told I was wrong and to write a letter of apology to her and I did. Things went well after that but then after the expansion she comes with more paper and tells me she wants 75% of all the landing fees I make. I told her I could not do that and then she said 50%. She and I have an agreement and that is where the issue is. She probably complained to the GCAA and I don’t know why the outcome of that matter determines the permission to use the airstrip,” he added.

Roraima Airlines is the carrier routinely serving the area but other airlines also schedule flights with a fee attached.

For Smith, who himself is stuck in Georgetown because he is too ill to make the treacherous journey by boat, the reopening of the airstrip is necessary not just for him but for others in the Barama Region, which is home to over 500 persons.

“It is not about me or anyone. People are suffering in there and it is because no one is there to tell their stories. No one will hear about the persons who do not have drinking water because the river water is too murky from mining to wash much less to drink and they are now left to buy water at skyrocketing prices because no one has stock. Everything is running out there,” Smith said.

Another resident, Samuel Sundar also lamented that food rations for his household and employees have run out and that the journey by boat will end up costing more than a chartered plane and last at minimum five days.

“Going through the {Barama) river is different from other rivers when it is low.  From Charity to Yakishuri Landing it will take you at least five days with load. That is because you are not only travelling very, very slow but you have to be pulling over steady to discharge until you reach. The Barama River runs into the Waini River to Yakishuru and the distance from Barama mouth to home is about 114 miles of river travel.  Barama River doesn’t have tide so what it is that it is and you have to cope,” he said.

“It has been very trying for us because water done and all the shops’ rations finished just like mine. To make that journey out and with no water in the river is not easy and people have to experience it to know what I mean. They could have closed it if they want to say for inspection, during the rainy season because you get rain water to drink and for travel. This has put us out real, real bad. I sorry for them ladies that getting baby and was to fly to Georgetown. We just hoping that somebody will hear our side,” Sundar added.

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